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Relatives search for Japan quake victims under chaotic conditions

Even houses and streets are gone after the quake and tsunami. Desperate family members go from one evacuation center to another.

March 14, 2011|By Barbara Demick and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

"The information is kind of spread out. In each evacuation camp, they improvise their own lists," said Hiromasa Kato, an assistant professor of engineering, who was staying in a shelter in Sendai. "You might think of Japan as very high-tech, but these local administrations use very outdated systems."

For many seeking their loved ones, things could take a turn for the worse.

A few blocks from Natori City Hall, a center to handle corpses has been set up on the grounds of a sports training hall. About 110 bodies have been recovered, including those of three children, said Bin Kimura, the operations head. Twenty have been positively identified and their names placed on the deceased board at the center.

In front of the building, on what was once a playing field, workers were busy erecting a blue tent, 100 feet by 30 feet, beside stacks of cardboard-wrapped coffins in case the massive gymnasium isn't large enough to handle the eventual number of bodies.

Friends and relatives who can't find their loved ones in person or on any of the lists come here. They're not allowed into the gymnasium to view the bodies. Instead, staffers in an outbuilding take down physical details of the missing along with any dental records. Then they go into the hall to try to match the information with the bodies.

Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction

Demick reported from Iwanuma and Magnier from Natori. Times staff writer Laura King in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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